By Dr. Patrick Johnston
My wife left me alone with my six-year-old boy as she took the older girls shopping, hoping he and I would get some “quality father-son time.” That was my wife’s euphemism for “Quit that important stuff you’re doing and play with your boy.”
I set him in front of a cartoon on the TV because I am in the middle of an edge-of-your-seat plot-shift in my thriller and I can’t wait to rescue David Jameson, my handsome, witty protagonist, from his breathtaking dilemma. But now the cartoon DVD has ended, and lil’ James is bored.
“But Dad, I don’t want to watch another cartoon.” He sets his favorite board game beside me on the floor. Some of the Othello pieces tumble off the board, and he puts them back in their place. “Will you play me a game of Othello?”
Play me a game of Othello? “My editor would not approve…”
“Huh?” He cannot make out my mumbling.
He doesn’t take my silence as the hint I intend it to be. Momentarily, he whines, “Daddy? Please.”
I rotate my swivel chair to face him, angered that my protagonist is going to have to wait other ten minutes before I can transfer his rescue from my brain to my manuscript. “Son, listen. Your Dad is writing a novel that could impact the world for Jesus.” I take a deep breath, feeling a surge of satisfaction in the potential for this almost-concluded story. “I have worked so hard on this and it’s almost done. This story could, well, it could change everything! You want to play a child’s game, James, but can’t you see I have something more important to do, you know, serving the Lord?”
He lowers his eyes, and his lips turn down at the corners. “Yes, Daddy.”
I turn back to the computer screen, enraptured by the glow of my story, the fearless courage of David Jameson, the Goliath-slayer, the water-walker, the dead-raiser and lust-spurner, my hero.
James dutifully lifts the Othello board and, with shoulders slumped, heads to the living room to let me finish my nail-biter. I grow irritated when he drops some pieces on the floor again, but I am proud of myself for holding my peace.
His mother arrives a half an hour later, finding James sitting cross-legged in front of the Othello board in the living room. “James, are you playing a game all by yourself?”
“Why don’t you play with your Daddy?”
Concerned about his obvious gloominess, she lowers herself to his level. “James, what’s wrong?”
He lifts his tearful eyes to her. “Daddy’s too busy to play a game with me. He’s serving Jesus.”
I cannot think of it today without blushing. How I spurned the diamonds of life for the impalpable crumbs of my fantasies for so many years! I would come home from work, eat my meal, and jump whole-heartedly into my novel until my wife and children had been asleep for hours. My protagonists were heroes, but I became a dead-beat dad to make them so.
“Will you come to bed with me, dear?” my darling wife would beg, holding the infant close.
“Huh?” I paused my typing to feign as if I was listening.
“Will you come to bed with me? Talk to me while I nurse the baby?”
“After I finish this chapter.” Don’t you understand that I have more important things to do, I did not say.
Her kiss on my cheek and the moment was gone. With the fleeting whoosh of my wife’s nightgown past me and up the stairs, I let the best part of my day fade to a letdown. I could’ve been her Goliath-slayer, water-walker, and dead-raiser, but instead, I’m her disappointment.
Do you see that diamond ring on your finger? When you die, it stays in your coffin. It has no more lasting value that a finger full of dust. That Louis Vuitton purse, the bass boat in your garage, your rising 401K – it’s all going to burn. The manuscript over which you have lost sleep for month, that breakthrough contract – even my fictitious hero David Jameson, I loathe the thought – they’re staying on earth. Jesus didn’t die for the characters in our stories. Our protagonists aren’t created in the image of God. They’re figments of our imagination, passing muses, as intangible as a fog in a mirror. You can’t take them to heaven with you.
But you can take your spouse and your kids.
By Patrick Johnston
Will this be the last tear
That I will ever dry?
Will this Lego masterpiece
Be the last you ever try?
Will I forget that moment when
You walked for the first time?
When you show me just how tall you are
By reaching to the sky?
Will I miss your whiny voice
When you’re married far away?
Or how you clasp your hands
And peek when it’s time to pray?
When you call for me to watch
As you’re jumping off the stairs?
When you try to feed your ice cream
To your legless teddy bear?
These are the joys of living –
I’ll not lose eternal things
And the priceless gems of life
For temporary belongings.
When a man is on his deathbed
He doesn’t ask for golf clubs there.
He doesn’t want more stocks or bonds
Or the latest fashions to wear.
He doesn’t ask for comedies
Or the big buck mount he likes.
He doesn’t want to firm his abs
Or wax his Harley bike.
He wants his precious family near,
He wants all wrongs made right.
He wants to feel their love and hear
Their voices through the night.
I’ll not take for granted
All the moments I’ll miss then.
Our life is like a vapor,
So brief and quick to end.
Like the sands through my fingers
Slip the seconds of my life.
All my stuff will fade away
But I can keep my kids and wife.
God, help me steward well these gifts
Entrusted to my care,
So that when I reach the other side,
I’ll enjoy them there.
Patrick and Elizabeth Johnston reside in central Ohio with their nine home-schooled children. Patrick Johnston is a family practice physician and pediatrician, the founder of the Association of Pro-life Physicians (www.ProLifePhysicians.org), and the director of Personhood Ohio (www.PersonhoodOhio.com). Dr. Johnston is a popular conference speaker and author of eight novels, two contracted to be published this year (www.RevoltTrilogy.com). He and his wife, Elizabeth, have a passion for strong families, restored marriages, Christian education, revival in the church, and a return to biblical thinking and practice (www.JohnstonFamilyMinistry.com). He has also written two film scripts, including When Swords Heal (www.WhenSwordsHeal.com).